What is Child Marriage?

Child marriage arguably the most ubiquitous type of forced marriage in the world. It is a formal marriage or informal union where one or both parties are under 18 years of age. While children of both genders get married, this practice disproportionately affects girls. Child marriage occurs all over the world and across cultures and religions. The United Nations considers child marriage a human rights violation as it threatens girls’ lives and health, and limits their future prospects. [1]

Child marriage is a complex issue; its drivers include (but are not limited to):

  • Tradition – It has always been done and therefore goes unquestioned
  • Poverty – girls are seen as a burden to their family and marrying daughters off at a young age is seen as alleviating economic burden and transferring it to her husband’s family
  • Gender inequality – the belief that girls are inferior to boys and men
  • Insecurity – girls are married off as a means to ensure their safety in areas where there are high risks of harassment and physical or sexual assault.
  • The controlling of the sexuality and reproductive capabilities of girls – A girl’s virginity is linked to family ‘honour’, meaning that girls (and women) can only have sex and get pregnant within the confined of marriage. Child marriage is a way of ensuring that the girl has children within marriage and can be controlled by the family.

Some key facts about child marriage:

Consequences of child marriage

Here are just some of the consequences that may be faced by victims of forced marriage [6]:

  • The disruption girls’ education.
  • Jeopardising the socio-economic independence and security of women and girls, therefore leaving them vulnerable to economic and financial abuse.
  • Preventing the participation of women and girls in economic, political and social spheres. This affects the well-being of their society and even the economy and overall development of their country.
  • Leaving girls vulnerable to violence, discrimination, and abuse including domestic violence, domestic slavery, and sexual abuse (including marital rape).
  • Early, frequent, and enforced pregnancy and childbirth, resulting in higher than average maternal morbidity and mortality rates. The leading cause of death among  adolescent girls 15-19 years old is complications in pregnancy and childbirth.
  • The murder of women and girls by their husbands and in-laws should they attempt to escape the marriage.

Prevention and Intervention

The United Nations Population Fund describes several policies, strategies or programmes [7] that can be implemented to address child marriage including:

  • Improving girls’ access to quality formal education
  • Empowering girls by building their skills and enhancing their social assets
  • Mobilising communities to transform detrimental social norms
  • Generating an enabling legal and policy environment
  • Enhancing the economic situation of girls and their families

Footnotes and Further Reading

  1. “Child Marriage: A Violation of Human Rights and a Deterrent to Human Development”, United Nations Population Fund
  2. “About Child Marriage”, Girls Not Brides
  3. “Child marriage”, United Nations Population Fund
  4. “Child Marriage: Latest Trends and Future Prospects”, UNICEF
  5. “Over 50% of World’s Marriages Are Arranged says New Statistics”, DesiBlitz
  6. “Child, Early, and Forced Marriage, including in Humanitarian Settings”, United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner.
  7. “New UN initiative aims to protect millions of girls from child marriage”, Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, United Nations

Video credits:

  1. “A storybook wedding – except for one thing”, UNICEF, 2016
  2. “The Girl Effect – The clock is ticking”, The Girl Effect, 2010